Recycling Dilemma #1008: Plastic bags and film – Friend or Foe?

Paper or plastic? Environmentally conscious shoppers know the answer: none of the above. They know reusable totes beat paper or plastic every time. Forgoing plastic bags at the store has a big impact. But what about all the other plastic packaging in our lives? Film that wraps itself around our favorite snacks, air pillows and bubble wrap mailed to us daily, and newspaper bags magically appearing on our driveway.   

While it is most important to reduce our consumption of single use plastics such as bags and film, it’s nearly impossible to avoid these stretchy, sneaky plastics. They’re everywhere. Yet, they can’t be recycled in our curbside carts. They can, however, be easily recycled at local stores.  

Are these plastics all foes to the planet, or could they be recycled and reimagined as an eco-friendly material?  

The plastic bags and film that you recycle at the store are sold to manufacturers. They take on a second life as bottles and containers, plastic lumber, picnic tables, lawn furniture, playground equipment, recycling bins and more. Trex combines recycled film with reclaimed woods to create a wood-alternative decking and railing used in local parks, pathways and backyard patios.  

See how companies like Trex are reimagining plastic film as an Eco-friendly alternative to traditional wood lumber. 

Recycle these plastic films if they are clean and dry only: 

  • Air Pillows and Bubble Wrap 
  • Case Wrap, Pallet/Stretch Wrap 
  • Newspaper and Magazine Sleeves 
  • Bags on Clothing or Electronics 
  • Dry Cleaning Bags 
  • Bread Bags, Produce Bags, Food Storage Bags (but NOT frozen food or salad bags) 
  • Grocery/Retail Bags & Other Film Packages 

Please only recycle film that is clean and dry. Moisture causes mildew on film and cannot be accepted at stores. For a printable guide, click here.

Plastic bags and film can be recycled at participating locations such as all grocery stores in The Woodlands, the Precinct 3 Recycling Facility and department stores such as Walmart and Target. Look for a receptacle near the entrance or ask staff at the service desk.  Please note, during the COVID-19 pandemic, some locations may not be accepting plastics at this time. If either is the case, please collect your bags/wraps at home until events change. Bags/wraps can be compressed and stored inside another plastic bag. 

Plastic bags and bagged recyclables are not accepted in our curbside recycling cart program because sorting equipment is not designed to process it without damaging equipment or creating hazardous work conditions for staff. Find more information in Recycling Dilemma #1004 – To bag or not to bag

Check out these recycling tips from previous blogs:    

Questions or comments? Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov  

Recycling Dilemma #1006 – Cut Out Contamination

Recycling conserves resources, saves energy, prevents pollution and reduces landfill space. We all have the best intentions to do right by recycling, but did you know that recycling correctly is just as important as deciding to recycle in the first place? 

In The Woodlands, we have a single-stream recycling program that allows all accepted recyclables to be placed in one container. Bottles, cans, paper, cardboard, cartons and glass can all go freely into one container, no sorting or bagging needed (in fact, you should never bag your recyclables). Because materials are commingled, they must be sorted when they get to the recycling center. 

Sorting equipment at the recycling center is designed  to sort only the items accepted in the program. All other items are considered contamination. Contamination damages equipment, creates unsafe work conditions for staff and decreases the value of recyclables. 

Did you know? In extreme cases, too much contamination can send an entire truck load of recyclables to the landfill. 


The most common contaminants to AVOID putting in your recycling cart are: 

  • Plastic Bags & Film – Return these to a local grocery store for proper recycling.  
  • Tanglers – No hoses, hangers, wires, chains or electronics. 
  • Clothing or Linens – Donate usable clothing and linens to local charitable organizations. Recycle items unsuitable for donation using the curbside Simple Recycling Textile Program.  
  • Food and Liquid – Recyclables must be clean; remember to empty and rinse all containers. Greasy pizza boxes, paper plates and towels belong in the trash. 
  • Styrofoam or #6 Plastic – Look for the symbol. Only plastics labelled #1-5 are accepted

When in doubt, throw it out! Even better, call The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department for help with recycling right, 281-210-3800. 


Please remember to always follow Waste Management guidelines which can be found on the lid of your recycling cart. For more recycling resources, visit the Township’s recycling webpage.  

Recycling Dilemma #1004 – To bag or not to bag

Free your recyclables!

Free your recyclables blog post

To bag or not to bag your recyclables? The answer is simple. Leave them loose! Plastic bags, film and flexible packaging are not accepted in our curbside carts. In fact, they’re the number one contaminant of our curbside recycling. If residents stopped bagging their recyclables our community would cut contamination by 50%. The value of recyclables is directly tied to how clean, or uncontaminated, they are. The success of the recycling industry is dependent on finding buyers for clean, quality recyclable materials.

Why aren’t bags allowed in our program?

In The Woodlands, we enjoy the convenience of a single stream recycling program in which all acceptable materials are deposited in one cart. However, the recyclables – plastic containers and bottles #1-5, cartons (think juice or soup), cardboard, paper, aluminum cans and glass containers – must be sorted once they reach the Materials Recovery Facility (MRF).

During the initial stages of sorting, loose plastic bags and film are separated from the rest of the materials by hand. This takes a great deal of effort, and much of it slips by, wrapping around machinery and damaging equipment further down the line. MRFs have to shut down the processing line several times a day to remove plastic film entangled in the machines. This takes up valuable time and increases costs. It also creates unsafe working conditions for the individuals that must crawl into the machines to remove the film. Check out the video below to see the effects of plastic bags on MRF equipment.

The problem with bagging recyclables

When we bag our recyclables we cause a different problem – workers at the MRF can’t tell if the material inside is trash or recycling – and so the entire bag is often sent to the landfill and all those good recyclables go to waste.

Although plastic bags and films do not belong in our curbside carts they are recyclable and quite valuable. So gather up all forms of plastic film in your house and take it your local grocery store – almost every store has a receptacle at the front. The bags and film are bailed, sold and eventually turned into composite lumber for making decks, benches, and playground sets. Plastic film can also be reprocessed into small pellets, which are turned into new bags, pallets, containers, crates, and pipe.

So let loose and free those recyclables!

Check out our website for more information about recycling and curbside services in The Woodlands.

Recycle More At The Store

Plastic bags are not an acceptable material in our curbside recycling carts. Many of us choose to reuse the plastic bags that float into our lives, but did you know that most of your plastic packaging can be recycled at a participating store if it is clean and dry? Look for the receptacle near the entrance.

Recyclable Items to Take to Store Include:

  • Air Pillows and Bubble Wrap
  • Case Wrap, Pallet/Stretch Wrap
  • Newspaper and Magazine Sleeves
  • Bags on Clothing or Electronics
  • Dry Cleaning Bags
  • Bread Bags, Produce Bags, Food Storage Bags
  • Grocery/Retail Bags & Other Film Packages
    (Check for the How2Recycle label)

Learn more about why plastic film doesn’t belong in your curbside bin and should go to the grocery store instead.

For more information about recycling plastic film, you can visit www.plasticfilmrecycling.org.  

For more information about curbside and other recycling opportunities in The Woodlands, please visit www.thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov/recycling.

Questions or comments? Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov


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Take the Plastic Free Pledge: Choose to Refuse!

Summer vacation means more parties, picnics, and eating on-the-go! It’s time to reflect on our disposable habits. Plastic Free July highlights how our short-term convenient choices can have long-term impacts on our environment.

Did You Know?

“Eight out of ten items found on beaches in international coastal cleanups are related to eating and drinking,” according to One World One Ocean. This is one problem with an easy solution: choose to refuse!

Top five ways to reduce plastic in your daily life:

  1. Bring your own bag. The average time each plastic bag is used is less than 15 minutes
  2. Bring your own bottle. The amount of water used to produce a plastic bottle is 6 to 7 times the amount of water in the bottle.
  3. Bring your own mug. Many coffee shops give a discount if you bring your own container!
  4. Choose cardboard and paper packaging over plastic containers and bags. Less than 14 percent of plastic packaging– the fastest-growing type of packaging–gets recycled.
  5. Kick the disposable straw habit. Plastic straws are not recyclable.. If you must use a straw, try a reusable one made of stainless steel or bamboo.

Take The Woodlands Plastic Free Pledge for a FREE stainless steel reusable straw and let us know how YOU will break your disposable habit!

Explore more easy tips here! Encourage others to BYO with these posters!


At home and on the go, when you can’t reduce, remember to recycle! Discover new opportunities to recycle beyond the norm at this year’s 3R Bazaar on November 9th at The Woodlands Farmer’s Market at Grogan’s Mill. Bring batteries, toothbrushes, textiles, eyeglasses and more for special recycling collections. Need more information? Call the Environmental Services Department at 281-210-3800.